8 Fantastic Crime Novels That Became Great Films


If you think Stieg Larsson is the end of the line in Swedish crime writing, think again. Recently, readers in the states finally got their hands on the English translation of Never Fuck Up, the second novel by Jens Lapidus, an honest-to-goodness criminal defense lawyer in Sweden who also happens to be a stellar writer and a major bestseller. In honor of Never Fuck Up, translated by Astri von Arbin Ahlander, which has already been adapted into a popular Swedish film (and is on its way to being an American film too), Flavorwire asked Lapidus to weigh in on some great crime novels that also made great films. Check out his suggestions after the jump, and weigh in on any that he missed in the comments.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo , Stieg Larsson

I’m pretty damn tired of foreign journalists asking me what I think about Stieg Larsson. Still, I’m deeply grateful to him; doors have opened like never before for me and my fellow writers from Sweden. We all know that good books don’t automatically make for good movies, but The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo won’t let you down (I’m thinking primarily of Niels Arden Oplev’s Swedish version, but David Fincher’s American version makes the cut, too.) The casting and pacing is pitch perfect. And it’s just as terrifying as you fear (and hope) it will be.

Mystic River , Dennis Lehane

Dennis Lehane has two talents in particular that ought to make his work difficult to adapt to the big screen: his dialogue is in a rare league with the likes of Elmord Leonard and his novels always have a moral twist that leaves the reader with a feeling of duality – Lehane refuses to make things easy for us.

In Mystic River, a dark event in the past of three childhood friends, Jimmy (Sean Penn), Sean (Kevin Bacon), and Dave (Tim Robbins), reaches sinister tendrils into the present. Clint Eastwood manages to depict the violence as tragic rather than as something shocking and disgusting. The film was awarded several Oscars, including Best Actor.

The Maltese Falcon , Dashiell Hammet

Ask any crime writer – they’ll mention Dashiell Hammet as a source of inspiration. His book, The Maltese Falcon, from 1930, is a hardboiled stylistic masterpiece. A private eye named Sam Spades loses his partner when gunfire breaks out during a mission. Spade takes over while trying to crack the murder case. Soon it becomes clear that everything revolves around a small statue of a falcon that several people are chasing. The dramatization from 1941, with Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, has been called the first noir film in the genre. And Bogart makes for a perfect, muscular, cynical, and entertaining noir-protagonist.

The Man on the Roof, Sjöwahl Whalöö

Sjöwahl Whalöö wrote ten crime novels between 1965 and 1975. The series, called Story Of a Crime, has influenced Scandinavian crime writers for centuries. The Abominable Man is one of their strongest stories – and only 250 pages! – and deals with the police’s monopoly of violence during a time when society moved from authoritarianism to democratic egalitarianism. Even if the book is over thirty years old, it still feels as relevant as ever. Bo Wideberg’s dramatization from 1976 is considered the best Swedish crime film ever made – every Swede is familiar with the scene when a police helicopter crashes into a men’s bathroom in center city Stockholm. The film manages to retain the book’s realism and social criticism without becoming moralizing.

Rum Punch , Elmore Leonard

Swag, The Switch, Stick, LaBrava, Glitz, Bandits and Freaky Deaky – come on, those names! And in 1992, it was time for Rum Punch. But in Quentin Tarantino’s skilled hands, the dramatization was dubbed Jackie Brown. Elmore Leonard is less interested in whodunit; the mystery is in the language, the characters, and the dialogue. The protagonist (played by Pam Grier) is a flight stewardess who traffics dirty money from Mexico on behalf of a weapons smuggler (Samuel L Jackson) when, one day, she is stopped by the police. The film offers up some of that typical Quarantino vibe, but has a different rhythm than Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Which is why it maintains Leonard’s distinct cool.

The Boys from Brazil , Ira Levin

Okay, let me be honest. The plot is so fantastic that it’s hard to see the movie after having read the book; there just isn’t much surprise left. But, having said that, the film reveals the Nazi-conspiracy in a slow, elegant fashion that at first confused me, then made me dubious, and finally made me overcome with terror and disbelief. The film is true to the book and Gregory Peck is scary good as Mengele.

Brighton Rock , Graham Greene

Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock is one of many 20th century novels that was actually inspired by film. The novel is a neat fusion of unusual gangster plot and unusual romantic melodrama set in a spectacular locale: Brighton, a beach resort with an enormous pier, an amusement park built on stilts, an endless boardwalk and luxury hotels – all of which are highly cinematic. Rowan Joffe’s adaptation from 2010 is innovative in many ways but Joffe’s cleverest move may have been switching eras from the 1940s to the 1960s, setting the drama in the midst of the violent showdowns between rockers and mods in 1964. Mods dressed in parkas swishing past on Vespas along the British coast – it just looks too bloody good.

LA Confidential , James Ellroy

No one can beat James Ellroy when it comes to crime stories. They attack the reader in a maelstrom of violence and corruption that leads in completely unpredictable directions. His world is a degenerate moment in American history where the main characters – and I suspect at times also the readers – try desperately to find a final moral straw to grasp after. And then there’s Ellroy’s prose: so intense, so original that he ought to be one of the most difficult crime writers of all to adapt. But where Brian De Palma failed with Black Dalia, Curtis Hanson’s takes it home with his version of LA Confidential. Why? Because the essence of Ellroy’s ironic and iconic novel shines strong.